Brenda Fashugba is an arts manager and professional arts administrator with experience in both festivals and theatre for over a decade. She is a partner and resident producer for the Performing Arts Workshop and Studios (PAWS) has produced over 100 live events all in Nigeria. In this interview with TONY OKUYEME Fashugba, talks about her passion for the arts, challenges and other issues
You have a Digital Marketing Certificate from the University of Illinois and a B.Sc. in Computer Science. Where did your passion for the art, especially theatre, come from? As a child, I was taken to the theatre to watch plays starring Joke Silva and Olu Jacobs and this interest didn’t wane. Unfortunately I didn’t get the opportunity to study it in school. At the time, it didn’t seem like a viable career from the perspective of my mum, so I ended in up in the sciences…
How was growing up like?
My family is super nuclear… my mum and my three other siblings. We are all so very close. I think I can categorically tell you. I didn’t like school even though academically I did quite well. I just never got into the social aspect… till I got to University I was always the youngest in the class and felt out of place for the longest time. I think I figured it out a little when I was in University but I was still awkward, I think… I loved and still live reading; it is now a form of escape for me. Growing up, I would read anything I could get my hands on, we had an extensive library because my mum was a business journalist so there were tons of books in our home, encyclopedias, novels, magazines…
What were some of the fond memories you can as a child?
My childhood memories are full of play time.with my siblings… We weren’t allowed to socialize with neighbors so we only had each other and we came up with the most outrageous games, costumes and imaginary scenarios, we had the most fun
You are an arts manager and professional arts administrator with experience in both festivals and theatre for the last 10 years. What was that interest you so much about arts management and administration?
For me I got into the business as an actor, but I realised I didn’t like it. I didn’t like the welfare or the treatment actors got and I wanted to do something about it. It was about the time. I met Kenneth so I had more insight, so that desire has manifested into a career where the well-being artists has fuelled for over 10years. I started producing theatre, then on to television. I recalibrated that move and went to on to start producing festivals
From your experience, what are the challenges and opportunities?
The challenges in the creative sector are far to many to mention from infrastructure, funding, legal frameworks, the list is quite endless and just as the challenges are so many, opportunities are stifled due to the challenges. Nigeria has so much talent but no skill or capacity to hone the talent and make it commercial enough to earn competitively. You co-founded the Performing Arts Workshop and Studio (PAWSTUDIOS) along with your husband, Kenneth Uphopho. Whst were the idea behind it? Pawstudios was created to be a main stream production company in response to a gap in the industry at the time. Theatre was make a comeback with nobody consistently putting out commercial successful pieces at the time. It was still very “arty”. We wanted to contemporize Theatre and take away the Elistist tag it carried and build audiences. That’s the reason why we started the company in the first place.
Looking back now, do you think it was worth the effort?
Oh yes, it’s worth it. Starting that company with Kenneth put me personally on a dream career path, where I could do what I love and try to earn a living from it. I started at a time when it was a little tough then to get anyone to listen to you, we spent a while building an audience at TerraKulture after Wole Oguntokun left the space, regrettably we lost that audience when it was being renovated. Thankfully, Bolanle Austen Peters Production has revived that when she started producing plays for TerraKulture.
You initiated the focus group, Women in the Arts (WIA) in 2015.
What is the idea behind it and how has it been so fat? Women in the Arts was put together to bring women in the sector together to network and empower each other. We have had an annual meeting now every year, we wanted to do more in terms of supporting women but the corona virus disrupted that. Hopefully we are seeing the end of the pandemic in the near future which will give us an opportunity to do more
From your experience as a festival consultant and producer, what is your opinion about theatre festivals as organised in Nigeria and can be done to improve on them?
From my experience as a festival consultant and producer my opinion about Theatre festivals organized in Nigeria varies from festival to festival. There’s a unique element/ purpose festivals must serve apart from purely entertainment satisfaction. It’s either promoting the arts, building creative communities or developing the artists. The government must see the arts beyond a sector that just needs endowment. We need an industry with the right people/professionals that the artists can trust. There are opportunities for festivals to simply harmonize into one big calendar of events with the right funding to stimulate the creative economy into one of the most viable sub sector
You were a delegate to the UNESCO Exchange session on Global report to re-shapen cultural policies held in Paris, France in June last year. Tell us your experience…
Going to Paris,France as a delegate to the UNESCO Exchange sessions is still really surreal . I say this because the experience reinforced my commitment to the cause of consciously advocating for women across all ages. I have been doing this for years now through the medium of expression I do best ;live theatre.
You are the producer of the Lagos Fringe Festival.The 3rd edition which was on the theme “Recreating the Future” and held on Tuesday 17 to Sunday 22 November. Tell us, how was it?
The 3rd edition of the Lagos Fringe turned out more successful than we had anticipated. You know, in the light of the pandemic we had structured the festival into a hybrid one both online and live with only about 40-50 percent of our capacity allowed into the festival hub. Participants and our partners were thrilled to have an avenue for the arts to be experienced once again after so long. Personally, experience was fulfilling for me as I got to work with artists again towards improving their skills and livelihood. Altogether, I believe that we achieved what we set out to do and we are super excited about the future. The festival opened for six days with workshops, panel discussions, plays , dance and all. There was an amazing array of artists on the lineup for the concert on Friday and even a comedy club. It was an awesome experience to stimulate the artists community. The support from our development partners such as the Goethe Institute, Freedom Park , BeatFm and the US Consulate General made the experience a memorable one.
You are married to a fellow artist, how has it been?
What’s interesting about my relationship with my husband is that we are best of friends so when we drop the ball sometimes in our pursuit of excellence in the arts, there’s always that understanding. I mean it’s had it’s lows but I choose to always celebrate the highs.
Looking back now, any regrets?
I don’t have any regrets about marrying an artist. The regret is in the system that we have been trying to sort out so that him and other artists like him will get their due for all the hardwork they have put in over the years. It’s a slow turning wheel but we are on that path of creating an enabling environment for it to happen. By the way, he’s not just an artist, he’s a brilliant one at that!
Why have you not gone into film production?
At the moment, we have produced some TV series and short films. We are very interested in producing more work for television and in the near future films. However, I have to add that the film making world is an entirely different experience. Most people think about just creating the work but there’s a long checklist that you have to sort out before you even go into production. However it’s an area we are exploring at the moment. There are a few bumps but we will eventually get round to it.